Some Texas National Guard troops, who serve under the banner of the Texas Military Services, will face new logistical challenges this week after the head of the state’s forces issued a ruling that same sex couples will not be granted access to their federal military benefits at state-owned facilities. Because of Texas law invalidating same sex marriage, couples seeking normal access to their federal benefits will have to leave their home bases and apply at a federal facility.
In an August 30, 2013 “guidance” letter to military personnel at state-run installations, Major General John F. Nichols instructed Texas Military Forces to deny same-sex couples enrollment access to federal healthcare and retirement benefits at Texas-based institutions. If servicemen in same-sex relationships want to enroll in these programs, they will have to travel a federal base — which, in a state the size of Texas, can be an inconvenience that functions as a impediment.
In the letter, Major General Nichols notes that the Secretary of Defense’s extension of benefits to same-sex couples directly contravenes the Texas Constitution and Texas Family Code 6.204, the latter of which states that a “marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union is contrary to the public policy of this state and is void in this state.”
Tuesday was supposed to be the first day the U.S. armed forces offered same-sex partners benefits.
Until his office receives “legal clarification” about this potential conflict, Major General Nichols encouraged same-sex couples seeking benefits to enroll for them at a federal institution. This decision has resulted in a situation in which some military families are denied the ability to enroll for federal benefits at state-run military facilities. The Washington Blade published a story about one such family: Alicia Butler, her wife Judith Chedville and their daughter, Jordan.
Butler tried to enroll with the Defense Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) at the state-run Camp Mabry, but was rejected. “They told us to go to a different facility, such as Ft. Hood in San Antonio, where the federal government runs the facility, so that we could get the ID card,” Butler told the Blade. “That’s an hour-and-a-half drive for me, and we have a five-month-old, so that’s kind of hard.”
A spokeswoman for the Texas Military Forces, Laura Lopez, said in a statement that while Texas is denying enrollment to same-sex couples, no one is actually being denied coverage:
Our goal in the Texas Military Forces is to provide the benefits available to our Soldiers and Airmen under existing federal law and policy, while also adhering to applicable Texas state law. The Texas Military Forces will continue to follow state law until legal clarification is determined. It is important to note that Soldiers and Airmen are not being denied these benefits, there are multiple locations throughout the state where they can enroll for same sex benefits.
She concluded by encouraging same-sex couples to seek benefits at institutions not affiliated with the state of Texas: “[W]e fully support same-sex families enrolling for benefits at the nearest federal installation.”
[Image of Texas Major General John F. Nichols courtesy of Texas Military Forces]